The Power of Social Reading

Social reading encourages people to think outside of what’s comfortable or personal. It encourages them to converse, to respectfully debate, to apply what they’ve learned, and lastly, to remember...

Remember in school, when the teacher asked students to read out loud, and then asked them to share their views on the text they’ve just read? This is an example of social reading, whether you enjoyed this type of interactive activity or not. 

Although reading is primarily known as an isolated occupation, doing it as part of a group is much more enlightening. It replaces your biased thoughts, as well as your own judgment of the work in question, making room for distinct yet constructive new ideas. 

While not all works are expected to -- or even supposed to -- have a deeper meaning behind them, the understanding of any subject is rarely done in private. Here’s why you should include more social reading into your schedule, or at least understand its importance. 

What is social reading, and why is it important? 

People, each with their idiosyncrasies, have different opinions about the same things. Give one poem for two people to interpret, and you might gain new insights you couldn’t have come up with yourself. What’s simply “blue'' for someone could mean “sad” to someone else. 

Social reading encourages people to think outside of what’s comfortable or personal. It encourages them to converse, to respectfully debate, to apply what they’ve learned, and lastly, to remember concepts. This, in turn, makes the text in question memorable, instead of yet another piece discarded by a saturated memory. 

So many people complain that they’re not able to use what they’ve learned, or that their memory doesn’t seem to absorb fresh knowledge for too long. And yet, they don’t make exchanging thoughts and ideas a part of their study routine. Sharing one’s ideas not only encourages others to do the same, but it pushes people to pick their memory in order to view something from a different perspective. 

What are some examples of social reading? 

Aside from the brief example in the beginning of this article, we have a few more examples of social reading below:

Book clubs. Several people read the same book, and meet generally once a month to discuss the book in question. The activity combines social interaction with a common interest: reading and debating. The best part about book clubs is that participation is voluntary -- unlike in settings like school, participants are fully willing to commit to the reading and following discussion of an author’s work. The non-obligatory nature of book clubs maximizes the experience, as all people involved settle for a shared task. And yes, online book clubs are also a thing! What’s so interesting about online book clubs is that the analysis isn’t restricted to one meeting. People may continue the discussion off-premises if they so wish. They’re also handy for when in-person meetings aren’t feasible. 

Goodreads (and similar social cataloging websites). Social cataloging platforms help readers worldwide share their book recommendations and reviews. It’s where avid readers go looking for social proof before reading a book, and where they curiously search for their reads to see people’s opinions about it. These aren’t necessarily book critics, but rather ordinary readers who would like to share their personal view and, hopefully, have others chime in to start an enriching online discussion. 

Marginalia. By reading comments left by other readers or even by the author itself in the margins of a text, you’re able to bring yourself to the moment when they were reading/writing that piece. It may not match the exact interpretation you had in mind, but that’s where the magic is. You can learn as you read and start conversations in your head -- a conversation which, even though you’re not facing someone while doing it, still considers someone else’s viewpoints. There are remarkable books that come with the author’s marginalia, which is invaluable to those looking to understand their thought process.

Kazuki's Thoughts
How Marginalia Helped Us Pass on Ideas and Thoughts Across Generations
Marginalia refers to the marginal notes left on books and other important documents. Think of the passages you highlight and the arrows you pull to make important observations on any type of text. That’s marginalia. You’ve done it as you hurriedly scribbled on your college textbook as your dynamic professor lectured. You…
Read more

The actions above can both externalize and eternalize a text, extracting its true meaning for readers. In simpler terms, it “forces” readers to extract the true meaning behind it, and take that meaning with them for life. 

Who will benefit the most from social reading? 

Readers, sure. But what kind of readers? 

In an analysis by T. J. Slee titled Who is the average Goodreads user? You'll be surprised!, he discovered that Goodreads readers are:

  • Usually invested in book reviews.

  • Quote explorers.

  • Also, they enjoy accessing their book recommendations on-the-go, through mobile devices (although a great percentage still access through desktop). 

The remaining data refers to information like their country of origin, the cars they own, their favorite TV shows, and so on. Although that’s interesting, we’ll stick to the topic of reading for the purpose of this article.

In short, these people are dedicated to book reviews and various interpretations. Their reading goes beyond books, and they’re interested in discussion and cumulative knowledge. To them, private reading is likely only valuable during the initial contact with a book. The subsequent experiences are better shared online or in person, if possible. 

Granted, there will always be readers who would rather stick to a quiet, introspective reading experience, which should be respected. Sadly, these types of readers wouldn’t benefit from social reading. 

We’re talking about outward-looking readers, specifically -- those who are hungry for opinions and willing to disclose theirs. Those who wouldn’t see a problem in saying “I guess I was wrong”. Most importantly, those who think of books as more than a pastime, but rather a collection of experiences that should be dissected to the core and remembered for generations. 

These are the people who know that the power doesn’t live in the act of reading -- it lives in the after. What have you learned? What are the myriad different ways you can unravel it? Where can it take you? You’ll only know once you share it.

See you next time,

Kazuki